New Jersey Squanders Transit By Surrounding Stations With Sprawl

princeton_jct
Too many transit stations in New Jersey, like Princeton Junction, are surrounded by parking and single-family housing, reports NJ Future. Image: Google Maps (h/t @traininthedistance)

New Jersey is the most population-dense state in the country, and many residents get to work via one of its several transit systems. But too many of New Jersey’s transit stations are surrounded by single-family housing, severely limiting the number of people — especially low-income people — with convenient, walkable access to transit. Some entire transit lines are out of reach for people of modest means.

New Jersey Future, a smart growth advocacy group, examined the neighborhoods around all 244 of the state’s rail transit stations, commuter ferry docks, and major bus terminals to get a sense of whether transit access is equitably distributed among residents.

In a new report, “Off Track? An Assessment of Mixed-Income Housing Around New Jersey’s Transit Stations,” NJ Future Research Director Tim Evans finds that transit access could be far more equitably distributed if New Jersey weren’t squandering the land near stations.

In 109 of the 244 station areas he studied, Evans found a higher percentage of single-family detached housing than the statewide average. In 54 of them, single-family detached homes make up more than 70 percent of the housing stock. That kind of land use severely limits the number of people who can have convenient access to high-quality transit.

As it stands, New Jersey’s transit abundance is going to waste, with nearly half its stations surrounded by spread-out housing. “The way you maximize the number of people who have transit as an option is by putting as many people within walking distance of transit as you can,” said Evans. “And the way you do that is by increasing housing density, not by building a lot of single-family detached housing.”

More abundant housing could also help bring heavily single-family neighborhoods into compliance with New Jersey’s stringent affordable housing policy.

Interestingly, among the richest neighborhoods are the station areas with the least dense and the most dense housing stock — single-family detached houses in Bernardsville and high rise condos on the Jersey City waterfront.

The dense places, Evans says, “are doing exactly what should be done to maximize the number of households that can take advantage of public transit,” and their challenge is different: to make sure those units aren’t all gobbled up by people who can afford market prices.

  • New Jersey also has a long history of NIMBYism. Even as NJTransit expands services and systems, local ordinances have been allowed to thwart projects that would add density around stations.

  • Joe R.

    While we’re on this subject, the Princeton dinky was shortened by about 450′ to make room for more development on campus. It’s a pity the university couldn’t fund an extension rather than a shortening. A stop in the original location, maybe another on Nassau street, would make a lot of sense. If need be this could have been an underground extension.

  • Theyre systemically destroying ridership on that line.

  • stvr

    “to make sure those units aren’t all gobbled up by people who can afford market prices.” Why is that a bad thing? Aren’t most successful cities filled with people who pay market prices? Are we in Havana?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Staten Island will embrace walkable streets before NJ.

  • Dave Geller

    I used to live in Edgewater (high density). Taking the NJT bus into NYC took longer than it now takes for me to take the train in from Maplewood (low density).

    The simple fact is, mass transit in NJ in high density areas is overwhelmed and just a horrible experience.

  • That probably won’t be true after Amtrak closes one of the rail tunnels.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Even in the most successful cities there are plenty of fairly low-paying jobs. Someone making the $15-an-hour “living wage” in San Francisco is going to have trouble paying market rate anywhere within a reasonable commuting distance of the city.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Edgewater turned down running the Light Rail when it was being built and even went so far to sell off the potential ROW and put building on it, so they are now living with the consequences.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Exactly. Perhaps the subsidy should be for high speed cheap rapid transit service to the suburbs, rather than housing subsidies in Hoboken.

  • Michael Klatsky

    People like opposition for the sake of opposition…take the CSX River Line – every single town it passes through in NJ has demanded passenger service for decades – but CSX refuses to share its 4 tracks with NJ Transit.

  • CSX was not the problem. It has been and continues to be local opposition to construction commuter service over the route. That is primarily conservative working class white people afraid that a transit line will let poor minorities from the scary cities come and get their children, and those trailer trash white people along the route don’t want to hide their wives or hide their kids.

  • Michael Klatsky

    That sounds like such a knee-jerk reaction I dont even know what to say in repsonse

  • I wouldn’t call it a knee-jerk reaction. Its been an going fight for probably 15 years now. There was a brief moment where people were excited that maybe the ARC tunnel would let them commuter rail directly to Manhattan, but with no ARC there is no room to let that happen. The opposition is mainly to the light rail since it connects to Union City, Hoboken, and Jersey City.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Those Communities are already well connected to those places by frequent bus service and they are not predominantly white conservative towns by any stretch. See this map:

  • Again, the desire was to hold out for DMU service to midtown, and opposition to light rail service that connected with Hudson County. Believe me or don’t, but its true.

  • Michael Klatsky

    I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. I think you are referring to the Northern Branch.

    Also, consider that there isn’t much travel demand to small job centers of Hudson County. Try taking the 166 bus that parallels the line, with it’s extreme daily delays.

  • Michael Klatsky

    The river line was always proposed as commuter rail.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Consider that the 166 had 13,260 daily boardings in 2008 (old data) !

  • Dave Geller

    When that day comes we’re all screwed, regardless of where you’re commuting from or how you get into NYC.

  • Dave Geller

    When that day comes we’re all screwed, regardless where you commute from or how you get into NYC.

  • Dave Geller

    Have you ever driven thru Edgewater? River Rd is literally the only road to go north/south in town. The light rail would have cut that from two lanes to one.

  • Michael Klatsky

    They were planning on using land behind the buildings to the west of River Road, before any buildings were built.

  • Just from reading the Streetsblog article I think this is a somewhat unfair evaluation of NJ TRANSIT rail. Fact is that NJ TRANSIT rail, due to the legacy rail that it inherited, actually goes out into rural areas of the state. The Peapack-Gladstone Line was built to so the robber-barrons of yore could ride in their private Pullman coaches to access their country estates in the Somerset Hills. Much of the land that line runs through is not appropriate for high density construction. Its also a slow train ride due to the hilly terrain the line traverses.

    The Princeton Jct. example is also not very fair as the local community has been trying to build a higher density development at the station. You must also understand that when the houses were built around that station it was the 1960’s. People weren’t thinking TOD. Just north of P. Jct. there are plans to build a high density development around a new train station in North Brunswick. Granted even though those plans are far from what they could have been and the end result is still rather poor and overly auto-centric.

    On other lines, again since they were built before the advent of the automobile, the towns that sprung up along the rail road are pretty dense. The Raritan Valley Line has great early 20th Century TOD communities. Many of those are lower to middle income like, Garwood, Roselle, Roselle Park, Plainfield, Dunellen, Bound Brook and Raritan. The NE Corridor has the more modest but dense towns of New Brunswick, Linden, Rahway and Elizabeth. Granted the Metro Park and Edison stations are rather squandered.

    I think over all, NJ TRANSIT was simply stuck with the places it inherited with its formation in the late 1970s and has done a great job encouraging TOD development near its stations in the past 10 years. Even today, its hard to fight the status quo of auto-centric living. Bashing NJ TRANSIT even though its doing a rather good job today in this area, isn’t really helpful.

  • UrbanProspector

    New Jersey Transit regards its parking lots as a part of its
    transportation infrastructure. Development of these parking lots
    requires a 1 for 1 replacement of spaces with limited opportunities for
    shared parking. When you add the cost of replacing those parking spaces,
    TOD becomes very difficult.

  • Bolwerk

    In the Trenton-Camden corridor? That area is pretty diverse. If there is NIMBYism, it’s probably from more affluent people (relatively speaking anyway) near places like Burlington.

  • What is “commuting distance”? An hour’s journey can be pretty far from SF, especially when combined with transit.

  • One thing that really helps is making better bike connections. Suddenly, the station area just expanded to 4x its original size.

  • Bolwerk
  • That’s something we’ve pushed for here and not very successfully. Our two newest park & ride lots are in the middle of retail mecca areas that are no go for bicycle riders (at least those who treasure their lives). Our LRT lines (that really should be trams/streetcars) are likewise mostly in no-go areas for bicycle riders.

  • Dave Geller

    Yes, I used to live right near the intersection in the photo.

    Adding the light rail would have cut things down to a single lane in each direction.

    As of 2003 Edgewater had 12,000+ residents traveling on that 3mi stretch of road. Since 2013 hundreds of new units of housing have opened, resulting in thousands of new residents.

    Since its Bergen County and subject to blue laws, Saturday is complete madness on that road. There were times where it would literally take 30 min to traverse the 3mi drive thru town.

    Forget about making a left turn without an intersection w a light.

  • Dave Geller

    Would have been interesting to see how that would have worked considering a few things:

    Shadyside, which is an area w some residential & small biz on Old River Rd at the south end of town.

    The Hess refinery (recently sold to a developer), which had facilities on both the water and cliff side of River Rd.

    I would imagine they would have had to taken those spots over to accomplish that.

  • Michael Klatsky

    NJT’s planning dept felt those hurdles could have been overcome – but the when the municipality refused to require that new development preserve a ROW, out of fear that the wrong people would come over on the train, NJT, acquired the old rail tunnel that now stops under Bergenline, skipping Edgewater altogether.

  • Dave Geller

    Never attribute something to racism when absolute greed will suffice.

    The people who run Edgewater have been bought and paid for by the big developers in town.

    After having lived there for over ten years, I would suggest that their desire to preserve land for giant condo buildings had more to do w their decision than anything else.

  • Michael Klatsky

    This was brought up a large gathering on “then” current residents – who did not want a light rail running through their town…the developers who were seeking lands, rezonings, approvals and variences were very much in favor of the light rail.

  • Dave Geller

    Interesting…I was not aware of that. The light rail had already been built before I moved there.

  • Michael Klatsky
  • neroden

    Worse, many of the stations have completely unwalkable walksheds. Go to Metuchen Statio, then try to get across US 1; you basically can’t.

  • neroden

    It’s not really NJ Transit’s fault.

    It’s the state legislature’s fault for not passing Complete Streets laws (so nobody can walk or bike from point A to point B), and it’s the state government’s fault for building giant “none shall cross” roads like US 1, the Garden State Parkway, the NJ Turnpike, and many others — and it’s the local governments’ fault for not encouraging construction near the rail stations, and for not building Complete Streets.

  • neroden

    For some reason Princeton University is completely hostile to the idea of people getting there by train.

  • Bolwerk

    Lowering it to a lane in each direction would probably be great. It would just make some of the people clogging it bugger off.

  • Jesse

    Trains bring in a decidedly Williams element.

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